Genealogy   -  Unlock Your Family's Past
Bev Parker

Searching Records
Most local authorities have history and archive centres that are open to the public and contain most of the information that you require. The staff are usually extremely helpful and can offer valuable advise, so if unsure, always ask.

Information is usually stored on microfiche or microfilm, these readers may have to be booked beforehand, as they are extremely popular. The records that are available will vary a little from authority to authority, but the usual ones are as follows:

Census returns
The National Index for Birth Marriage and Death Certificates
Electoral Registers
Cemetery Records
Parish Registers
International Genealogical Index

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Documents of all kinds, even scraps of paper like this can provide a lot of detailed information.

Census Returns
These are one of the most useful sources that are available. Censuses have been taken every ten years since 1801, but are only available up until 1891, as the records are closed for 100 years. Some of the earlier ones may not be available, the information on them is limited, consisting of only the householder's details. From 1851 onwards things improved, the following details were included:

Each member of the household, their name, sex, relationship to the head of the household, marital status, occupation, county, town or parish of birth, and whether deaf, dumb, blind, imbecile or lunatic.

The 1881 census has been name-indexed by the Mormons and the Federation of Family History Societies, and so is an extremely useful resource. Some of the others may have a surname index and much work is being done on this. Many genealogy groups are indexing census records, to make searching much simpler. There are limitations to these returns as anyone who was not at home on the night that the enumerator called would not appear. People's memories can be inaccurate so that details such as age, and place of birth may not be correct. Some children under the
age of 5 were omitted, and on some of the earlier censuses people's ages were rounded down to the nearest 5 years. Often couples would indicate that they were married when not because of the morality of the day. People regularly moved house in search of work, and would sometimes do a "moonlight flit" when rent arrears were due. Even with these limitations census returns are still the most valuable source of information for 19th century research.

International Genealogical Index
This is compiled by the Mormon Church, and is extremely useful. It consists of a name index (by county) for baptisms and marriages from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Its available in many of the local archives, and more importantly its also available on the internet. I shall list the address later.

Other Sources in Local Archives
Old newspapers can provide a wealth of information about clubs, societies, advertisements, and a roll of honour for both world wars. Large scale maps can help locating where people lived, which is useful when investigating census details. Trade directories give the names of people in trade and the photographic collection may contain photographs of streets or buildings associated with the family. Some may even contain family members photographed at various functions.

The Internet
This is becoming an increasingly useful tool. There are sites such as the one run by the Mormon Church which allow you to search a large database for your ancestors. Other sites are devoted to just a particular surname. There are sites offering search services, and internet bookshops which list genealogy books. As the internet is international it is particularly useful when searching for relatives abroad. Most of the local history centres and record offices have sites that list the available records, and also contain a wealth of information. Hopefully one day we will be able to directly access their records using the internet. That will greatly simplify this kind of research, and could allow you to search all of the local history centres in the country from the comfort of your armchair.

Some useful sites are:

Wolverhampton Archives and Local Studies
Walsall Local History Centre
Dudley Archives & Local History Centre
The Birmingham and Midland Society for Genealogy
Genuki - lots of general information
Genuki - Staffordshire
Harbach Genealogy - includes Willenhall indexes and War Memorial - search for records of births deaths and marriages
1901 Census - the census online
1911 Census - the census online
Commonwealth War Graves Commission - details of those who died in two world wars
Cyndi's List of Genealogy sites - a portal site, with innumerable genealogical links
Find My Past - search all kinds of records
Family Search - The Mormon Church family database
Federation of Family History Societies - lists member societies
FreeBMD - free access to the Civil Registration Index
FreeREG - free access to parochial records
Irish Ancestral Research Association - useful for the Irish community
Genes Reunited - find family members
The National Archives
RootsWeb -
share and search world wide genealogical  data bases
Society of Genealogists
- details of the Society and how to contact professional genealogists

Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates
These contain valuable information as well as dates. A birth certificate contains the parent's full names, the mother's maiden name, the sex of the child, the date and place of birth, the father's occupation, and from 1969 the place of birth of both parents.

A marriage certificate contains the date and place of marriage, the names and ages of the couple, their occupation, the place where they lived and the names and occupation of their fathers.

A death certificate contains the name of the deceased, the date and place of death, the cause of death, or if a married or widowed woman it contains the occupation, or the name and occupation of the husband, the date and place of birth, the usual address and maiden name.

Certification began in July 1837, and births have to be registered within 42 days. The certificates on record can never be directly viewed by the public, a copy has to be requested and paid for at the local registry office. Indexes for the certificates are kept at the General Registry Office in St. Catherine's House, London. Copies of these can
be viewed at most of the local authorities' archives.

There are separate indexes for births, deaths and marriages, which are arranged alphabetically by the quarter of the year ending 31st March, 30th June, 30th September and 31st December. Each index lists the surname, Christian name(s), registration district, page number on which the entry falls, and the date of registration. When applying for a copy of a certificate it is important to supply as much information as possible.

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 Sometimes in the local authorities' archives you may be lucky and find old photographs of houses where your ancestors lived.

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